The Foxtober party continues. Please welcome Freddy McKay with not only a free, completely new short story, but also a ten-dollar Amazon gift card to one random commenter. Why not comment to let Freddy know what you think of the story? Comments may be moderated; please be patient. The winner will be chosen Monday.
By Freddy MacKay
Chances were Masao wouldn’t be able to face the humans again. Their prayers would be answered. He had been sent by the gods after all. But Masao had no intention of resolving the villagers pleas in the way they expected him too. His disgust and loathing of the humans cowardly actions made it hard to look at them. They had caused enough pain and misery for several lifetimes, would be paying for their actions for generations. Their false pleas now fell upon Masao’s deaf ears.
It didn’t matter Inari sent him to save the villagers. They had brought their plight upon themselves. They had broken sacred trusts then came running back to the gods because it suited their needs. No, Masao couldn’t face the humans any more.
Not because he was scared of them and how they might take their anger out on him for not complying to their wishes. No. He was stronger, faster, had magic and Inari on his side—probably. Masao felt confident his god would understand once the whole story came out. No, Masao couldn’t face them because he saw the furs the villagers used. Had heard their glorified tales of their triumphant hunt of the okami in the mountains. Felt the fury grow as they sung and boosted about the heavy furs they’d skinned off the okami. Tasted and smelled the wolves’ blood when he checked their empty den—the place where the pack had been slaughtered.
All of the pack murdered.
Except for ‘the Terror.’ The abomination, the yōkai, the reason the villages prayed and bowed before Inari and Masao had been sent to the remote mountain village.
The villagers had missed one of the pack.
Their mistake. Their doom, really. They had been so sure, so confident they had gotten all the wicked okami.
But no, their over-confident boasting and offers to Inari turned into prayers and pleas rather quickly once the spring thaw set in and trade opened back up.
Anyone walking the pass had become a target.
For the okami the humans had missed also happened to be the strongest male of the pack. Physically powerful. Angry. Strong spiritual powers. And the the young kit wasn’t just some kind of ordinary okami either.
No, the ignorant humans ambushed and killed a pack of okuri-okami. A foolish, arrogant action lead by the head villager’s son. A weak and fool hearty decision because they had turned on the very thing that had kept them prosperous for so long. The okuri—protectors of the good and hunters of those with an evil of heart who traveled through the mountains. Generations from the destroyed pack had watched over the village, keeping the humans safe from bandits and other men who would do evil.
But what happened to the pack’s loyalty when the food got scarce?
Slaughter. Gleeful, short-sighted slaughter.
“And arrogant,” Masao muttered. To place themselves above the yōkai who protected them.
“Abe-sama?” village head said quietly, and yes when Masao checked, still in seiza. “Have we displeased you?”
More than you could know. Masao refused to turn around. Not even the enticing smells of niku tofu or hiyayakko would persuade his thinking. The kit deserved to parse out vengeance he brought down upon the village.
Except kit has taken the killings too far.
“Abe-sama,” the village head said again. “We have prepared this feast for you to give our thanks.”
“I need no thanks.”
Why hadn’t Inari sent one of the Mizunos? That little clan of kitsunes were far better at dealing with humans than Masao, especially since they chose to live among the ridiculous humans. Hadn’t their oldest son taken a human lover recently?
Masao sighed. His ears swiveled back and forth as he listened to the murmur of concern running through the crowd. Inari should abandon this village if they were going to speak with such hush-toned of disrespect. A low growl vibrated his chest. Masao flicked out his tails. All nine of them trembling with anger.
A hush spread out among the temple room.
“Abe-sama—Kitsune—Messenger of the gods. Our savior.” The village head’s voice sounded lower than before. Masao flicked his ear back, and he turned his head briefly to catch a glimpse of the human bowing over, hands out in front of him. “Please save my people from this yōkai who hunts us.”
A gasp went through the humans. The village head hushed them, his piercing tone almost a wail.
“But I will save him from you.”
Masao weaved through the villagers, out of the temple. A stunned silence followed him. None of the villagers tried to stop him. No one reached for him and begged for his help. He never once looked down. Masao didn’t even want to remember their faces let alone see what they felt now.
Never had he been so angry. It had been decades since he cared enough to hold this kind of fury within himself. But the absolute lack of remorse, the almost pure giddiness, the villagers had about their slaughter resonated Masao’s very bones.
The blood spilled in the den would stain the mountains for centuries to come. What kind of bad spirits
The young okami would end up being hunted if he was not stopped, and Masao found he cared about whether the wounded yōkai survived. It had been so long since he cared for anything. Why did it matter? What was this need to find the young kit and save him?
Trekking up the mountain pass took up hours, leaving Masao to wonder why he was so obsessed with what had taken place in the village. It also gave him time to wonder why he was sent instead of one of the Mizunos. Why had Inari agreed the villager’s request to begin with? The humans had obviously crossed a line and did not need saving. But then again, Inari’s tasks were never so straightforward. Masao had to be missing something important.
When the smell of old blood hit Masao’s nose he wrinkled it, sneezing at the fowl odor. The bodies might have been taken and desiccated by the village, but the blood would remember. Pain lived between the rocks now.
So much so Masao knew the young okami must’ve taken refuge away from the den.
Masao lifted his head and breathed in. Underneath the smells of trees, dirt mixed with dried blood, and wind, another weaker scent floated in the air.
The young kit might have been driven out of his den, but that did not mean he abandoned his ancestral home. Masao debated on how he should sniff out and great the young kit. While he most certainly didn’t smell human, looking like one could provoke an attack Masao didn’t want. Then again, meeting the okami with his beast might cause other issues.
Wolves and foxes weren’t exactly friends at the best of times.
But his human appearance would leave him vulnerable if the kit somehow managed the upper hand in an attack.
Stripping it is.
A large bolder stood in the small clearing in front of the den. Seemed like a good as place as any. He tossed his kinchaku on top before kicking off his geta. The tabi went next. Masao unwrapped his obi and folded it neatly before placing it on the rock. Then he untied his koshi-himo and Masao’s yukata fell open, exposing him to the cooling night air. Before long it would be too cold to stay exposed to the elements. Masao pooled the sash on top of the obi before disrobing. A nip in the mountain wind caused a shiver to run through Masao. He quickly folded his yukata and placed it with with the rest of his belongings. After one quick deep breath in Masao stripped off his nagajuban.
Almost too cold for someone as old as him.
Masao threw the nagajuban in the direction of the boulder, not caring if it made it. He was too focused on becoming his beast.
Fur rippled across Masao’s arms as his claws and fangs punched through his fingertips and gums. Masao fell forward, catching himself on his paws. A shudder wracked his boys as bones reformed themselves into a fox shape. This part never got easier, especially with age. Joints and tendons protested the change in form.
But now Masao wasn’t cold. Sounds and scents were louder, more pronounced in his beast as well. His kitsune nearly bounced in anticipation for being let out after so long. Masao shook out his legs and tails, swung his muzzle back and forth a few times to get teh crick out of his neck, then decided a good stretch was in order.
Those muscles feel new. They weren’t. Masao just hadn’t used them in… a long time. When was the last time he let his beast take over?
Masao raised his muzzle and breathed.
The okami’s scent came from higher up the the rocks. A little north and east of Masao’s current position.
Masao backed up then ran forward a few steps. He leaped onto a small ledge close to the mouth of the den. Lots of smells were on the spot, from many different okami. They’d probably taken turns watching for enemies and signs of trouble. It gave a decent view of the village.
Then why hadn’t the pack known the humans were coming?
Not far from the small ledge was another one, then one after that. Masao jumped from one outcropping to the next, following them up the mountain. By the time he reached the top he’d seen the path from multiple angles, a stream, the village from a few different vantage points, and several smaller dens.
What am I going to find at the top?
Agitation swarmed Masao like a bunch angry hornets. His tails flicked to and fro, waving about wildly.
Each leap brought a stronger scent of okami. It rattled Masao’s beast, they were the smaller, weaker predator compared to the wolves. But Masao was older, bigger, stronger than most kitsune. Maybe that was why Inari sent him and not one of the Mizunos?
At the end of the ledges, another rock den was hidden away in the mountainside. It overlooked the mountain pass and the village, everything really. It was also close to the roughest terrain of the pass.
No wonder he’s been so successful in hunting down the villagers.
Beside the acrid scent of pain, there were smells of death and decay. Masao nearly tripped over his paws thinking he’d gotten to the young kit too late when a loud growl echoed out from the den.
Masao lifted his muzzle and breathed in. Live wolf. Now or never.
With a growl of his own, Masao entered the den. A howl, angry and furious, met with his intrusion. Thrown into the abnormal blackness, Masao pushed against it with his light using a twig he stepped on. He filled the cave with his light, bright and sharp like the sun.
One corner of the den remained in shadow.
Masao pressed his light up against it, hammering at the darkness swallowing up the okami. The howl from the corner grew, loud, frightening, a clear warning to stay away. But Masao wouldn’t leave the kit here. The villager’s fear was already simmering into anger, and those kind of resentments meant they’d be willing to take risks soon.
Each step brought Masao closer to the shadows, and with each of those steps the pressure increased, pushing him away. While the force was powered by the okami’s anger, it would only last so long against Masao’s light. He was older, stronger, and just as determined as the young kit, though only Inari seemed to be in on that secret.
The shadows splintered, reveling a bone-thin wolf in its place. Where once full, thick, glossy black fur should have been, dull patches covered the young male. Each of his breaths came out in a rasp, his chest rising and lowering with effort. He could barely hold up his head, and he had curled his body around something.
Masao breathed in. That something smelled like death. He pushed forward. The okami stood up, wobbling as he did, and revealed the bodies of two small kits. Neither of the wolves could’ve been more than a couple years old.
“What have you done?” Masao growled out.
The okami howled in response, firmly planting his paws on either side of the kits. The stance was rigid and—protective? Yes, yes he was. The young okami was protecting the long dead kits.
Masao breathed in again. “Were they yours?”
The response to his question resulted in the most haunting howl Masao had heard in decades.
He’s protecting his dead children.
Another more heartbreaking howl pierced the air.
And he’s waiting for death.
“I am no nekomata, okami. Death is not coming for you.” Though he almost wished he was. Masao understood the pained cries from the okami. Over the decades and centuries Masao’s family had dwindled to only him. Lovers, parents, brothers, sisters, his children—all of them gone. Death, fading away, illness, all of them gone—leaving Masao alone in a world he no longer understood.
Masao crept closer to the okami.
That’s why you sent me. Isn’t it, Inari? Though his god’s sense of humor certainly left something to be desired. The villagers had demanded retribution. The god gave Masao and the okami a new family.
Because I understand. I know what it’s like to be the only one left. He’d never seen a fox and a wolf make a family before, but the world was a strange place.
The kit lunged toward him, his jaws snapping. His teeth sunk into Masao’s foreleg. Not far, and there was a real lack of power behind it. Poor kit had almost starved himself to death over the winter.
Masao shook off his foundling and leaned down. The poor okami had no strength to fight him. He licked the kit’s muzzle, earning him a growl. It lacked conviction. He continued to groom the kit until the young male stopped wriggling.
“I can’t give you death, okami, but I can give you new light,” Masao growled out. He curled his larger body around the kit. They’d deal with everything in the morning. One step at a time. But for right now, they both needed some sleep. “Lay your head down. No one will come for you with me here. I am your pack now.”
Freddy grew up in the Midwest, playing sports and running around outside. And honestly, that much has not changed since Freddy was small and throwing worms at other kids, expect worm throwing has been replaced with a healthy geocaching addiction. Freddy enjoys traveling and holds the view a person should continually to learn about new things and people whenever possible.
Freddy’s contemporary LGBTQ book, Incubation: Finding Peace 2, won 3rd Place – Best Gay Erotic Fiction in the 2012 Rainbow Awards. In 2013, Freddy’s story, Internment, tied for 3rd Place – Best Gay Fantasy in the Rainbow Awards. Freddy’s steampunk/SF story, Feel Me, was a finalist and honorable mention in the 2014 Rainbow Awards for SF. In addition, Freddy’s urban fantasy, Snow on Spirit Bridge, was also a honorable mention and finalist for the 2015 Rainbow Awards as well.